A desire to work at the sharp end of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has led to a Taihape man swapping the fitness industry for working at the business end of a helicopter in some of the Air Force’s most extreme scenarios. 

Corporal Mark Howard, 34, graduated as a Helicopter Loadmaster at Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Base Ohakea on Friday, and will now be firmly on the frontline - making quick-fire decisions in fast-changing situations.

The former Feilding High School student started his working career as a personal trainer and fitness manager before joining the RNZAF, initially working in security. 

He has now completed the 11-month loadmaster training course, which included flying in A109 light utility helicopters.

As a helicopter loadmaster, Corporal Howard will be responsible for any passengers, underslung loads and rescue hoists on aid and search and rescue missions. 

He will be posted to Ohakea-based No. 3 Squadron on either the A109 or medium utility NH90 helicopters. The squadron supports the New Zealand Army by delivering troops and equipment into combat and supports NZ Police and other government agencies within New Zealand or around the South Pacific.  

Recently, the squadron’s NH90 helicopters and crew supported the Australian Defence Force-led response to the bushfires and also supported the response to the Whakaari/White Island eruption.

“I am looking forward to the challenging nature of the job, and that there is a lot of variation day to day. It is also a job that is at the front lines of the NZDF, so you can see the difference being made, such as the Kaikoura earthquakes.”

One of the biggest highlights of the loadmaster course was mountain flying in the South Island and seeing a new area of the country from a different perspective, he said.

When he’s not in the back of a helicopter Corporal Howard spends plenty of time playing sport. He has turned out for service and base rugby, rugby league and squash teams.

He said being part of the NZDF was a great career choice. 

“It’s a long-term career with varied jobs that can change day-to-day to keep things interesting. It is also great for work/life balance to have time to support my young family.

“It is also a rewarding job where you can go out and help people and see that immediate positive effect on others.”

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